Crunch time

Sailors wrestling squad to host 16-team tournament

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— The Steamboat Invitational is a sort of harbinger for area wrestling teams.

Drawing from different-sized schools throughout Northwest Colorado, Saturday's tournament is the first chance many coaches have to see how their athletes stack up outside the training room.

"The first competition tells us where we're at and where we have to go," Hayden coach John Svoboda said.

For two out of the three area schools Soroco and Hayden Saturday will be their first competition of the season. And, for host Steamboat, the tournament follows its Thursday night debut when it travels to Eagle Valley for a match against Eagle Valley and Basalt.

The 16-team tournament will be one of the largest tournaments Steamboat has had in years, Sailors coach Jay Muhme said.

"We commonly have a 12-team tournament. This year, we had a lot of people interested," he said. "Hopefully, it will be a good competition. It's going to be a full day of wrestling."

With two 5A schools and three 2A schools, the tournament is a chance for wrestlers to test the waters outside their school size, something that Svoboda said is good for a smaller school like Hayden.

"We use that as motivation," he said.

But, it also means that Soroco and Hayden will have a chance to scout West Grand, and Steamboat will get an early look at Battle Mountain, a Western Slope team that could be found at the district and regional tournaments later in the year.

The Steamboat Invitational will see the return of last year's team winner, Dakota Ridge, a 5A school from the Front Range. It will also have one other 5A school, Manual, along with traditionally strong 4A schools such as Ralston Valley and Fort Morgan.

But, Svoboda said Fort Morgan, which usually fields a strong wrestling team, might be at a disadvantage for Saturday's tournament because of a late football postseason that will have them playing for the 3A state title that day.

All the area teams will be down a few men coming into Saturday. Steamboat and Soroco both have eight wrestlers to fill a 14-man squad. Although 13 wrestlers came out for the Tigers this season, a deep weight class at 152 pounds will leave three or four spots vacant.

In tournament competition, a small squad might not be as noticeable as in the Sailors' first match in Eagle Valley.

"I wish we had more people to defend ourselves against. They're good tough teams," Muhme said.

Both Muhme and Svoboda said the wrestlers they do have out have been working hard and are ready for the first competition.

Muhme will be returning two wrestlers that placed in the top four of last year's Steamboat Invitational. Sailor Justin O'Leary took second place in the 112-pound weight class and Will Zimmerer placed third at heavyweight.

The Steamboat Invitational will start at 8 a.m. and is expected to run throughout the day.

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